Every year thousands of new expat English Teachers head to South Korea from the seven native English speaking countries. However commonly these teachers spend maybe a year or two in South Korea and then move on. But why? Why don’t so many expats settle in Korea and make a career from English Teaching? Over the years we’ve meet so many people who’ve come to Korea but have left within 2.
The reason for making this post is partly to try and give some advice to those thinking about leaving Korea and also those thinking about moving to South Korea. Thirdly (although the odds are small) is to educate employers (mainly hagwons) on why there teachers leave and some ways to help keep them.
These reasons are based on personal experience and opinion and are in no particular order. Also this post isn’t perfect and there is a bit of crossover between the points (as you might expect).
10 Reasons Why Expat English Teachers Don’t Settle in South Korea
1 – Don’t Like The Job (Teaching ESL)
This is maybe the main reason that people give, teaching ESL is often a thankless task and if you’re teaching young children it is also energy sapping.
Many people come to Korea without much (or any) experience or direct qualifications in teaching. This means that the first month is a real baptism of fire with a lot of stress, pressure and information to absorb. Often this first impression takes a long time (or never) to get over. Therefore some people never really fall in love with ESL teaching.
Advice: Take things slow and try not to do everything in one week, you’re here for a year or more and so there’s plenty of time to do and see everything Korea has to ofter. Also look at this as being a settling period and don’t take thing super serious just relax and take it slow.
However for those who’ve been here a while, sadly not every job will suit you and if ESL doesn’t finish your time here and move on using this experience as a platform to bigger and better things.
2 – Don’t Like South Korea
For one of a number of reasons South Korea doesn’t suit everyone, it could be the food, culture, weather or countless other things. Without going into exact details we’ve had a few friends who because of curtain personal reasons never feel fully comfortable living in South Korea.
Advice: Going to places such as Itaewon and western bars in general will help you enjoy South Korea without things being very Korean. Also getting involved in activities like Music, Sports and Hiking, might help blend into Korean society. However Korea isn’t for everyone.
3 – Homesick
Related to number 2 being homesick is often a reason why people don’t settle in South Korea. South Korea maybe a modern and pretty westernized country but at the end of the day it’s Asian and therefore not the same as home. There’s also the lack of family and close friends, being 1000’s of miles away from home doesn’t seem to bad if just for a month or two but after 6,7,8 months it can be difficult and the reason why people leave.
Advice: Staying in regular contact with you family and friends from home is always nice, however this can remind you of the things that you miss. A weekly email might be better for a while and a Skype chat maybe monthly. It may sound hard but focusing on your life in Korea instead of home might help you settle.
4 – Fired
This relates more towards hagwons, but for either good and bad reasons people are fired, and in Korea it can be pretty hard to find a good job after being fired and many people head home.
Advice: If you work hard and do a good job then you have nothing to worry about, however ESL in Korea is big business and if you don’t take the job seriously you might be fired. These days there is a surplus of people wanting to come to Korea and employers can be fickle. If you’re unfairly fired then make a case with the Korean Labor Board.
5 – Bored
This could relate with many of the other reasons in this list, however being bored can be a major factor. For some people like work all day and then rest and then sleep, that’s it. So apart from saving money there can be few reasons to stay in South Korea.
Advice: This one on paper might sound obvious but joining clubs, meeting like minded people with similar interesting will be make your time more interesting (or at least less boring). If you try and fail at least you tried, but if you leave Korea without trying then you might have that what if? Question in the back of your mind.
6 – Language Barrier
Hangul (Korean) is easy to learn the very basics of, but after that it can be never difficult. This constant language barrier both at work and in general can get tiring quickly. Their are many strong English Speaking Korean here, but they aren’t everywhere and in a local bar, restarant, mart, bank etc it can take you a long time to do the simplest tasks.
Advice: Learn a little Korea, a little can go a long way. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help, school kids often will happily help westerns which is a nice aspect of living in South Korea. Also downloading an English to Korean dictionary and/or translator on your phone can help you out massively.
7 Loney / Single
Living alone and being single can be big factors when thinking about if South Korea is the right place to settle in. Most people come to Korea alone and often know no one here before arriving. Also meeting that special someone can be hard with often small social circles.
Advice: Getting out and doing things can help you meet others, and you never know you’re soul mate might be just around the corner. In Korea dating can be tricky but the best advice is to ask a Korean friend if they have any friends they can introduce you to. Group dates are also popular and fun.
8 – Working Hours
In South Korea some ESL teaching roles have strange hours starting in the afternoon and finishing in the evening, 2pm to 9pm being common. These strange a slightly antisocial working hours are often the reason why teachers leave Korea as they feel they have limit free time.
Advice: Sleeping at slightly different times is one option, also using your morning free time constructively is another useful tip. Also one benefit of working in the afternoon is that you’re more able to recover from the humpday party than those working at public school or kindergarten.
9 – 1 year contract
One year isn’t a long time and therefore settling and parting down roots can be a difficult prospect when at the end of the day in a few months time you might be leaving Korea.
Advice: No job is for life and so ESL Teaching is no different, if you put down roots and settle when you feel comfortable then that one year contact will seem a lot of an issue and you can then focus on the future and living in Korea.
10 – Lack of Job / Career Advancement
Some people earn a lot of money Teaching ESL, however most people earn a very similar amount and salaries haven’t risen much over the past 5 years. Also without directly related qualifications landing a good university role is hard, so working at Public Schools, Hagwons or privately are you’re only possible options. You still have the issue that your job will basically be the same, without much development.
Advice: If you’re serious about ESL teaching then gaining more qualifications is very important. Also staying with one employer can lead to more opportunities in the future such as managerial est roles.
This post “Living in South Korea Guide” should also help some people who are either finding living in Korea hard or thinking about moving here.
Thank you for your time and have a nice day.